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RIoT Team and Collaborators take a picture
Image credit Dan Wilson.

Startup companies focus on creating and selling value. Each startup has a bit of “special sauce” they do better than other companies and this specific excellence is what customers want and will pay money for. In short order, a startup company must find: their special sauce, a way to deliver special sauce at scale, and a reliable way to find people with money who want that special sauce. Within that diabolically straightforward mission are many side quests a business owner must do that are not related to the creation and production of special sauce.

Some say the definition of a startup CEO is any responsibility that has not been directly hired for yet. Examples of common startup side quests are setting up utilities, ensuring the Wi-Fi network functions, paying taxes, sending invoices, contacting vendors to fix facility-related issues, and managing office space. While necessary activities, the startup CEO is also the one most likely to own the special sauce recipe and any time not spent on special sauce takes away from the growth and development of the business. No wonder many startup companies fail, it is a lot to ask of someone to be expert-enough in many non-core areas while also creating and developing their killer idea.

So how can we make startups better, cheaper, and faster?

The Decentralization of Tech and Resources

Wilson, North Carolina is the kind of town where an entrepreneur can focus on building their business with access to the right technology and resources without high costs of living and big-town traffic. Once startup companies needed to be in select geographies to get the resources and support needed to grow, we now see much wider distribution.

A decade and a half ago, Thomas L. Friedman wrote “The World Is Flat” in which he foretold the decentralization of technology and resources. The City of Wilson made the decision long ago to be a tech-focused community and has made substantial investments towards that goal. Wilson is willing to “go-first” and take chances to bring opportunity to their residents. The city management continues to invest in Wilson and make the downtown area a charming, lovely, walkable, and interesting area. The city also provides rich arts and entertainment programming with regular concerts, art shows, farmers markets, and other fun events.

Mobeen Khan as Chief Operating Officer Blues Wireless is a distributed organization. We chose this path from our inception because it allows us to get the best talent for any role, not just an optimal fit within a reasonable commuting distance. It also means that these talented employees enjoy a better lifestyle and can choose to contribute to our mission and success, from their favorite domicile. City of Wilson is such a place, and I applaud their willingness to experiment and drive meaningful change so their residents have a broader rainbow of opportunity and the City can serve as a gateway to innovation and technology for their local employers and beyond. Mobeen Khan – COO Blues Wireless

Gig East Opens Building on a Successful Track Record

On June 15th, 2021, we attended the grand opening of the Gig East in Wilson, North Carolina. Gig East is an innovation and community-focused facility that gives startup companies a solid foundation on which to build their business. Gig East provides instant-on facility, infrastructure, and telecommunications needed to start and grow, giving the CEO time back in their day to focus on their core business.

The Gig East is a beautiful building with exposed rafters, brick, and wood surfaces that make it a joy to come to work. There is lots of natural lighting and spaces on which to think and do. There are several different layouts available, and the team is happy to customize space to the taste and needs of tenants. Also, there is an on-site coffee shop managed by Larema to help fuel those important working sessions.

Gig East is supported by a combination of public-private partnerships. At the grand opening event we heard from groups like the City of Wilson, Greenlight Community Broadband, RIoT, and several startup companies founded in Wilson as part of the 2020 Wilson Chapter of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP).

Fun Fact – The name Gig East is a portmanteau referencing the Whirligig park a block away, and the municipal Gigabit fiber network created by the town of Wilson with the goal of offering high speed broadband service to all residents.

An office at the Gig East exchange
Image Credit Dan Wilson

2020 RIoT Accelerator Program Speakers

During the grand opening program, we were heard from several participants of the 2020 RIoT Accelerator Program. Each shared their story of how they founded their business and how they got needed support, mentoring, and ideas from the RIoT Accelerator Program.

2020 RIoT Accelerator Program Results

  • 18 startups created
  • $740k capital raised
  • $6.5m revenue generated
  • 21 jobs created

Shawna Moses – Kinky Tresses

Dissatisfied with the hair care products available for her hair type, Shawna Moses used her background in chemistry and experience in health care to launch Kinky Tresses – a natural hair focused product line that is safe and effective. She had to pivot and adjust a fair bit due to the intricacies of COVID and now has doubled her revenue, hired 6 people, and been featured in major publications. She is a powerhouse and an inspiration to many.

Shawna Moses CEO of Kinky Tresses - Natural Hair Products company based in Wilson, NC
Image Credit Dan Wilson

Marcus Aman – ShyftAuto

After working in the automotive service industry, Marcus had an idea to make service centers more efficient and founded ShyftAuto as a software package to manage service centers. The ShyftAuto team have recently expanded operations and are relocating to Wilson, NC in the coming months. Marcus felt his participation in RIoT RAP changed the trajectory for his business. I enjoyed his authenticity and enthusiasm as he shared his story.

marcus Aman - CEO of ShyftAuto an automotive service center software management program
Image Credit – Dan Wilson

2021 RIoT Accelerator Program

RIoT have just completed the most recent installment of the RIoT Accelerator Program in Wilson. The latest cohort consists of:

  • Coach Next Door – provides opportunities for youth soccer players to book individual training sessions with their favorite pro players either virtually or in person, as well as providing supplemental drills as a part of their membership.
  • FastQSR helps Quick Service Restaurants solve drive-through delays and indoor customer line delays.
  • Keepsake Tales – creates personalized, individualized children’s books to show every child that they matter.
  • Off Duty Blue helps public safety organizations minimize costs, improve accountability, and combat officer fatigue by simplifying overtime hours, special events and private security detail processes.
  • Pass the Coach – a nationwide youth sports coach credentialing service with training modules and background checks improving the quality of coaching and safety for volunteers and their athletes.
  • Rownd – provides easy to use developer tools that enable any website, app, and company to be data-privacy leaders, reducing risk and increasing trust

We look forward to cheering on and supporting the new cohort of entrepreneurs as they build out their visions.

Post-event networking at the Gig East exchange
Image Credit Dan Wilson

See You in Miami at IoT Evolution Expo!

Many folks from the RIoT Team, Greenlight, the City of Wilson, and leading North Carolina communities will be presenting or leading discussions next week at the IoT Evolution Expo in Miami. I’ll be there and am interested in finally resuming business travel. I hope to cross paths and have interesting conversations with:

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